A rising tide lifts all boats: How TD Ierlan leads by example
By Lauren Merola | Jul 8, 2021
Ierlan piled on his five bags and picked up speed, dragging his added-hundred pounds through the Denver airport in what proved to be one of the most stressful run tests of his life.
It was Memorial Day Weekend, and Ierlan moved out of Denver and headed for Foxborough – specifically, Gillette Stadium, home to the Premier Lacrosse League’s 2021 training camp.
When he arrived at the airport, Ierlan walked to the security entrance he and the Denver lacrosse team normally went through before being stopped by people pointing behind them and saying the line started, “there.”
But “there” seemed three miles of people away.
“I’m so screwed,” Ierlan said, remembering what he thought in the moment. “Then [Nick] Ossello did some magical thing that only Ossello can do.”
On the other side of the airport, Redwoods midfielder and Colorado native Nick Ossello held up the plane as Ierlan American-Ninja-Warriored his way to it.
Ossello practically wrestled the gate attendant over the counter to not give Ierlan’s ticket away to the people waiting standby when Ierlan emerged.
“I saw TD running through the airport, drenched in sweat and completely out of breath,” Ossello said.
Ierlan made it on the plane, to Foxborough and shortly after, on to the Redwoods’ Week 1 starting lineup.
“I have to thank Nick Ossello for holding up that plane so TD could come to training camp and win the job,” Redwoods head coach Nat St. Laurent said.
In the 2020 PLL Championship Series, the Redwoods went 47-130 from the stripe, winning a measly 36% of faceoffs, down 14% from 2019, when Greg Gurenlian won 86-of-172. With some draft day luck, that changed. Ierlan fell out of the top three — behind Jeff Teat, Michael Sowers and JT Giles-Harris — and the Redwoods snagged him with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 College Draft.
The Redwoods filled the Gurenlian-sized gap on its roster with the NCAA all-time record leader in faceoff wins and ground balls. In his college career, Ierlan won 500 faceoffs — another Division I record — on 75.3%.
Ierlan worked with a list of coaches and players that helped him make history, but at the top is Whipsnakes faceoff specialist Drew Simoneau.
The two first met after Ierlan’s freshman year at Victor High School in Victor, N.Y. Simoneau said Ierlan’s father Mike and his head coach at Nazareth College Rob Randall are good friends. When Mike thought TD could use some extra help at the stripe, Randall asked Simoneau to step up.
Simoneau did, and with it, found his first student and love for coaching. Simoneau said he watched a quiet, reserved high school freshman turn into a record-breaking machine. Nine years later, the two have grown close.
“You probably won’t find any other person in the game of lacrosse that is well liked by just about everybody,” Simoneau said. “[Ierlan] knows everybody. He’ll strike up a conversation with anybody. He’ll give you the shirt off his back.”
Simoneau said Mike and Chrome head coach Tom Soudan are also close friends. In high school, Ierlan sometimes came to Soudan’s Rochester Rattlers practice to be Simoneau’s practice partner.
“Maybe much of my professional success really should be attributed to him,” Simoneau said.
Simoneau is a physical therapist who lives in Syracuse, NY, and with his work schedule, can usually only get reps in the early morning. Sometimes, he’ll ask Ierlan to practice together at 6:30 a.m.
“TD will be like, ‘I don’t want to but we’re going to do it,’” Simoneau said. “He’ll wake up at 4:30 in the morning and drive to Syracuse to get the reps. That’s just the kind of kid he is.”
Ierlan’s always known there’s no substitute for hard work.
In high school, Ierlan won two state championships (2015, 2016) and 1,135 (83%) faceoffs. Mike, who Ierlan said is the most competitive person he’s ever met, was his lacrosse coach and impromptu football and wrestling coach. The two watched film together and scouted competition, no matter the sport, no matter the time.
“That’s the biggest thing [my dad’s] done for me,” Ierlan said. “He taught me how to compete. I’m not very big or strong or fast, I just think I’m very competitive.”
Even at home, Ierlan said Yahtzee games frequently ended in yelling or fighting.
Ierlan committed to the University of Albany out of high school. As a freshman, he set the school record for faceoff victories (323). In his second year, he set the Division I single-season record (359).
He transferred to Yale, where he was no less impressive. Ierlan was a Tewaaraton Award Finalist and named the Ivy League Player of the Year. He won 393-of-519 faceoffs — breaking his former single-season record — and set a new high for single-game faceoff wins, going 26-for-26 against Harvard.
At Yale, Chrome attackman Jackson Morrill said Ierlan wasn’t the most outspoken leader, but he was the most competitive.
“He would push himself to the absolute limit and guys knew they had to follow him,” Morrill said.
Ierlan and Morrill’s 2020 season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic and both ended up at Denver for the 2021 season. Ierlan transferred to Denver mid-school year, where he finished the last nine games of his college career.
There, nothing more than four feet separated his bed from Morrill’s.
“A lot of times, [Ierlan] fell asleep to faceoff film,” Morrill said. “There’d be whistles and faceoffs going off on his computer and I’m laying in bed finishing up homework. He lives and breathes facing off. His dedication to it is amazing to me.”
Another Denver housemate of theirs, Atlas SSDM Danny Logan said Ierlan was the kind of teammate who put his head down and did everything necessary to be ready on game day.
When Denver lost, Ierlan came home, put his headphones on and hit his bedroom carpet on his knees, listening to whistles and practicing his technique, Morrill said.
Ierlan graduated with a degree from Yale after taking classes at Denver that counted towards the Ivy. With Denver on the trimester system, his school year bled into PLL’s training camp. Ierlan said schoolwork and adjusting to the professional game hindered him from being his best, but St. Laurent’s confidence in him changed that.
At training camp, St. Laurent learned of Ierlan’s lead-by-example attitude quickly, after watching the rookie fly around Gillette Stadium picking up balls, leaving the stadium drowning in equipment with not one thing to say about it.
“He won us over by coming in and being humble,” St. Laurent said. “Everybody knew he was a superstar, but he was humble. He kept to himself. He doesn’t chirp. He doesn’t want to be mic’d up. He just wants to do his job and help the team win.”
After listing Ierlan as the only faceoff specialist on the roster for Week 1, Ierlan realized he needed the confidence in himself that St. Laurent had to go out there and do what he’s done his whole life: win.
“That’s what makes our relationship so unique,” Ierlan said. “[St. Laurent] showed so much confidence in me without even knowing me. Now, I have so much confidence in him to make the right decisions.”
Ierlan erased any notion of self doubt and proved St. Laurent right during his debut against the Cannons on June 4: The 5’9”, 175-pounder won 21-of-27 faceoffs (78%) and picked up 15 ground balls.
St. Laurent said Ierlan fits in well on the 2021 Redwoods squad because nobody thinks they’re the team.
“[Ierlan’s] a very good lacrosse player in the sense that he doesn’t let his on-field performance define who he is,” Ossello said. “Clearly, he's one of the best faceoff guys in the world, but you almost have to tell him that. He’s everything you want in a teammate from a humility standpoint.”
In Week 1, before he was traded to the Whipsnakes, Simoneau was on the sideline for the Cannons but not dressed. His emotions were split: This game was marked on his calendar and he was frustrated that he wouldn’t faceoff against Ierlan.
Simoneau also wasn’t surprised.
“I told Coach Quirk, I was like, ‘Tommy Kelly is going to win the first quarter. Second quarter it’s probably going to be 50/50. By the third quarter, TD is going to figure it out and he’s probably going well over 50%.’”
Sure enough, Ierlan surpassed Simoneau’s predictions.
Kelly won two of the first three go-arounds. Then Ierlan won 20 of 24.
On July 6, the Whipsnakes acquired Simoneau and Chris Hogan from the Cannons in a trade for Kevin Reisman. Simoneau joins Joe Nardella, the 2020 Paul Cantabene Faceoff Athlete of the Championship Series.
Nardella and Ierlan also train together.
“He’s been like another Drew to me,” Ierlan said. “He just hasn’t been around as long.”
In the 2020 PLL Championship Series, Nardella owned the stripe, winning 72% of his 138 draws and grabbing 65 ground balls. Now, Ierlan’s out to take his throne and put the Redwoods back on top.
The Woods fell to the Whips in overtime in the 2019 championship and in the 2020 semifinals. The rivalry is alive and well and Ierlan is out to again prove St. Laurent’s draft-day decision making and leave Simoneau unsurprised.
Both expect nothing less.
“[Ierlan’s] a competitor,” St. Laurent said. “Every time he goes out there, he has to prove himself.”